General John Mason house, circa 1796.

General John Mason House, Analostan Island

Text and Renderings by
Stephen A. Hansen
*

The 70 acre island now known as Theodore Roosevelt Island) was known as My Lord's Island and then Barbadoes in the 17th century. It was purchased in 1717 by George Mason, the father of George Mason
George Mason
of Gunstan Hall
Gunstan Hall
, and it became commonly known as Mason's Island.

In 1792, George Mason bequeathed the island to his fourth son General John Mason (1766-1849). John Mason referred to the island as Analostan Island, and was often referred to as "John Mason of Analostan Island."

John Mason was one of the most prominent businessmen in Georgetown at the turn of the 19th century. He served as a brigadier general of the District of Columbia militia, was a founder of the first bank in Washington, the Bank of Columbia
The Bank of Columbia was located on M Street in Georgetown
in 1793 and later served as its president. He became president of the Potowmack (Potomac) Company, the predecessor to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company (George Washington was its first president). In 1815, he purchased the Columbia Foundry, the largest business in Washington at the time.

Historian Willard Webb described the house as "one story, with a full basement; the main floor included a drawing and dining rooms, (and) three bed chambers . . . while the kitchens and storage rooms were located in the basement. There was a large brick terrace along the south front of the house and the small entrance portico on the north front faced Georgetown." From the front portico porch one could see Georgetown and Joel Barlow's Kalorama estate.

Mason conceived of Analostan as a self-contained estate with extensive gardens and livestock on the island [map
From Map of the City of Washington by Robert King (1818).
]. During the winter months the Masons would return to their winter house in Georgetown. In the 1790s, prominent guests to Analostan included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Louis Phillipe, Duc d'Orleans, who later became the King of France.

In 1806 the west wing was destroyed by a fire while the Masons were at their Georgetown home. Thomas Jefferson described the effects of the fire: "one wing was burnt down and the middle nearly so. They saved their furniture. Suspicions arising that it was done by one of his house servants who wished the family to go back to Georgetown, he was arrested and on his way to prison with the constable, he jumped out of the boat and drowned himself. I understand the family will continue through the summer in the remaining wing." The west wing was never rebuilt.


View of Mason house from the north.


This sketch depicts a somewhat romaniticized view of the house
and dates from after the fire of 1806. (HABS)


Photo app. 1880-1890. (HABS).

Due to financial problems Mason was forced to abandon hisisland paradise as well as sell the Georgetown house in 1833 when he moved to his Clermont (Claremont)
Claremont plantation
plantation in Fairfax, Virginia.

One of Mason's sons born on the island was James Murray Mason
James Murray Mason
who served both as a United States Senator and Represenative from Virginia. He was appointed commissioner of the Confederacy to the United Kingdom and France between 1861 and 1865 during the Civil War.

Mason Island was bought by former Washington mayor William A. Bradley and the house was used as a public resort and as an army camp during the Civil War, leaving it uninhabitable. After Bradley died in in 1867, the island became home to the Columbian Athletic Club and the Analostan Boat Club. The interior of the house was destroyed by fire in 1866. The remaining roof and several walls collapsed in a second fire in 1906. In 1913, the house was bought by Washington Gas Light Company. The island was acquired by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1931 which donated it to the federal government for a park. In 1935, the remaining walls of the house were pulled down.

The reconstruction of Analostan was based on the1936 Historic American Buildings (HABS) Survey (HABS DC-28).

 

* Stephen Hansen is an historic preservation specialist and Washington historian and is principal at DC Historic Designs, LLC in Washington, DC. He can be reached at shansen [at] dchistoricdesigns [dot] com. Feedback and comments are welcomed.

Visit our blog: Virtual Architectural Archaeology: Recreating the Lost (or Nearly Lost) Built Environment In and Around Washington, DC.

 

Also by Stephen Hansen

Kalorama Triangle: The History of a Capital Neighborhood. History Press. 2011.

Available from
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